Born December 11

Big Mama Thornton sang the blues as few others before or since. At a time when men dominated blues music, Thornton made sure audiences didn't forget about female singers as she belted out tunes that would become enduring classics. Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" was first popularized by Thornton, as was Janis Joplin's "Ball and Chain." Her music helped lay the groundwork for rock 'n' roll, and her legacy includes New York's Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, named in her honor with her birth name. There, hundreds of girls and women each year learn to carry the torch Thornton lit. We remember her life today as well as the lives of other notable people who were born this day in history.

Click to discover notable people who died this day in history including pinup model Bettie Page.

1950: Christina Onassis, American-born heiress to the fortune of Greek-Argentine shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, is born in New York, New York.

Her devoted father called her "chryso mou," or "my golden one." And from the outside, Onassis seemed to have a golden life. Her father's fortune reached the billions, and his yacht bore his daughter's name. Her dolls wore Dior dresses. She grew up in homes in Paris, Antibes, and Skorpios, her father's private Greek island. Yet, while Onassis was one of the world's richest women, she also may have been among its unhappiest. Read more

 

 

 

1943: Errol Brown, Jamaican-British singer known best for being the lead singer of the soul and funk band Hot Chocolate, is born in Kingston, Jamaica.

1941: J. Frank Wilson, U.S. singer who was the lead singer for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers who had a Billboard No. 2 song titled "Last Kiss" in 1964, is born in Lufkin, Texas.

1939: Tom Hayden, U.S. activist, politician and author who was married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1990, is born in Detroit, Michigan.

1935: Ron Carey, U.S. actor known best for his role as Officer Levitt on TV's "Barney Miller," is born in Newark, New Jersey.

1926: Big Mama Thornton, U.S. singer-songwriter who had a hit in 1953 with "Hound Dog," which sold almost 2 million copies and later became an even bigger hit for Elvis Presley, is born in Ariton, Alabama.

"Hound Dog" writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – who would go on to write a slew of hits for acts as diverse as the Drifters, Elvis Presley, the Clovers, Peggy Lee, and Stealers Wheel – were then just beginning their careers. In an interview with music critic Ralph Gleason, Thornton recalls, "They were just a couple of kids and they had the song written on the back of a paper bag." She added a few lyrics and toyed with the rhythm. The song would go on to top the rhythm and blues charts for nine weeks after its release. Read more

 

 

 

1924: Doc Blanchard, U.S. College Football Hall of Fame running back for Army who was the first-ever junior to win the Heisman Trophy, is born in McColl, South Carolina.

1923: Betsy Blair, U.S. actress who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film "Marty," is born in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.

Betsy Blair (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Blair, who died in 2009, was a rising star in 1940s Hollywood but was blacklisted for her leftist political views and saw her work dry up in the 1950s. With Gene Kelly's intervention, she did manage to land the role of Clara Snyder, Ernest Borgnine's love interest in the 1955 film "Marty," for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. Read more

 

 

 

 

1922: Maila Nurmi, U.S. actress known better as Vampira who was television's first horror host and who also starred in Ed Wood's movie "Plan 9 From Outer Space," is born in Petsamo, Finland.

With darkly mascaraed eyes and blood-red lipstick, Nurmi appeared each week in her revealing black dress and slinky fishnet stockings to introduce such films as "Revenge of the Zombies" and "Devil Bat's Daughter," according to her 2008 obituary by The Associated Press. "The Vampira Show" was canceled after about a year, but Nurmi remained a cult figure among B-movie buffs and is thought to have inspired the look of the vampish Morticia Addams character played by Carolyn Jones on the TV comedy "The Addams Family," which premiered in 1964. Read more

 

 

 

1919: Marie Windsor, U.S. actress known as the Queen of the B's for her many roles in film noirs, is born in Marysvale, Utah.

1918: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize-winning Russian novelist known best for his novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," is born in Kislovodsk, Russia.

Through unflinching accounts of the years he spent in the Soviet gulag, Solzhenitsyn's novels and nonfiction works exposed the secret history of the vast prison system that enslaved millions. The accounts riveted his countrymen and earned him years of bitter exile, but international renown, according to his 2008 obituary by The Associated Press. And they inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person's courage and integrity could, in the end, defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire. Read more

 

 

 

1911: Val Guest, English movie director whose movies include "Casino Royale" and "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth," is born in London, England.

1905: Gilbert Roland, Mexican actor who starred as the Cisco Kid in the movie series of the same name, is born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

1889: Walter Knott, U.S. farmer in California who created the Knott's Berry Farm theme park and made his own brand of jelly, is born in San Bernardino, California.

Click to discover notable people who died this day in history including pinup model Bettie Page.